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3.41  ·  Rating details ·  436 ratings  ·  73 reviews
Yalo propels us into a skewed universe of brutal misunderstanding, of love and alienation, of self-discovery and luminous transcendence. At the center of the vortex stands Yalo, a young man drifting between worlds like a stray dog on the streets of Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. Living with his mother who "lost her face in the mirror," he falls in with a dangerous c ...more
Hardcover, 317 pages
Published December 31st 2007 by Archipelago Books (first published 2002)
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Average rating 3.41  · 
Rating details
 ·  436 ratings  ·  73 reviews

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Nov 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Finishing this book, in which torture plays a prominent role, at the same time as the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the use of torture by the CIA seemed serendipitous—at least to the extent of compelling me to write a review. It goes without saying that if you are at all squeamish, if depictions of a cat clawing apart a man’s genitals or a broken bottle being shoved up said man’s rectum make your stomach churn, then you might prefer to read something else.

Still, those s
Nov 26, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016, kutub-bk-grp
I cannot believe I am still reading this book! (Nearly a month later).
It churns and churns, repeating itself endlessly, maybe adding a little more detail with each telling.
And the torture, I hate reading about torture; maybe I have my head in the sand but it distresses me that people can be so cruel to each other.
Mind you, the main character isn't much better, he may be a product of the Lebanese Civil War, but he's a nasty piece of work too - a rapist who doesn't even realise that what he's doin
Ronald Morton
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is written in shadows pierced by a flashlight beam, dancing with illuminated colors. The text clogs your nostrils with the stench of pine sap, and incense, and blood and excrement. The words coat your tongue with the tastes of cuttlefish ink and sanctified wine clotted with blood and fills your throat until you choke.

This book is written in shadows pierced by a flashlight beam, but the flashlight is taken away and the hood is draped over your head and tightened around your neck. It str
Aug 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
This is beautifully written - poetic and nuanced, I can't help but be impressed by the style and the obvious skill of the translator.

I am often wooed by a book on the strength of the language alone. Not here though - I found the story to be tedious and it left me with very little sense of the protagonist (or other characters). I'm sure this is intentional, as it plays to the overt theme of 'versions of truth' and to the deep chaos that defines Yalo. But it didn't work for me.

I was also hoping t
Apr 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An edited version of this article was first published as Book Review: Yalo by Elias Khoury on

A serial rapist meets a torturing interrogator in wartime Lebanon. Yet he soon realizes that the ultimate source of pain is his own head, which can cause a much greater suffering than the devices that his prisoners used to inflict pain on him. This is a novel that is heavy on passion, blood, and violence. Definitely not for the squeamish reader.

At the outset, we are introduced to Daniel,
This was a struggle.

Yalo/Daniel is very bad at being a person and it shows.
Aug 17, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: بالعربي
The first part of this book was a bit annoying: Here is our main character Yalo being interrogated, and he tells the interrogator what he is thinking. Then he tells us that he doesn't in fact tell the interrogator what he was thinking. Then he tells us "I said those things," and then says "I didn't actually say those things." This on-again off-again was starting to get on my nerves.

Moreover, a big chunk of the book is sexual in all kinds of ways: Yalo is aroused by the lovers who park their cars
Nov 08, 2011 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 29, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: disliked
Daniel, nicknamed Yalo, is accused of rape, robbery and just about anything else you can think of. He is tortured until confession and is then ordered to write down his life story. He revisits several moments of his life, dealing with subjects such love, adultery, pedophilia, rape, treason, abandonment, heritage and just about anything else you can think of. It is dark, depressing, sad, and a total waste of time.

The characters in the book are simplistic, excpet for Yalo himself, who is so comp
Heidi Polk Issa
Jul 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Yalo tells the story of a young man who has been arrested for a series of criminal activities, including rape, robbery and illegal smuggling. While under guard (and the threat of torture), Yalo is ordered to write a confession detailing his criminal activity and instead makes several attempts to write the story of his life.

This stands as an absolutely extraordinary book and Yalo is an incredible character. His inability to adequately recall and write the story of his life serves as an excellent
Nov 27, 2013 rated it liked it
Reading this book is like trying to get out of a maze, you get a bit further each time, but keep ending up back at the beginning. The story mostly takes place from Yalo/Daniel's prison cell and the telling of his life story while being interrogated or writing it down. We got different version of the story with more details, although sometimes contradictory statements. I was hoping reading this would give some feeling for the history and culture of Lebanon/ Beirut, but the story was too focused a ...more
Aug 28, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This was a very difficult book to read. It was difficult on a few levels. The text is translated to Engish, for one. The topic is difficult as it involves a prisoner who is tortured because he may have raped someone.

Overall, though it was difficult to put down and I read it in one sitting. I should say, that I read it straight through because the language is so intelligent and thoughtful. While the subject isn't easy to read, I enjoyed the complexity of the writing, and by the style.
Olga Kowalska (WielkiBuk)
Sep 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
What a painful and extremely emotional read! And in a good way. It's about war, PTSD and confusion. Yalo does not know who he is anymore. He's in pain. He does not understand what wrong he had done. The story leaves the reader in kind of disdain for the protagonist, however with a kind of compassion also. A great and very demanding book. ...more
Oct 23, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, fiction
Reading this book almost felt like some mild variant of the torture endured by the protagonist throughout its pages. It took me several months to finish it because I would lose interest in the story, which is so disjointed and neurotic that trying to follow it is a pain. Eventually I decided to make a concerted effort and bring Yalo across the finish line - which I did, but am still unable to express what it is about in any coherent description. The bad translation certainly did not help matters ...more
Ryan Houck
Apr 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
No description prepared me for this tale. The ending felt chilling and powerful. I found the book on the IB list, and I cannot quite imagine teaching this book. Misogyny, humor, violence, and above all, deep concern with how telling stories and torture create a feedback loop. Torture increases wild story telling and wild storytelling increases the interrogator's desire to torture.
It reminds me of the Stanford Prison Experiment. People assume wild and strange roles under stress. But this book do
Jul 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2020
I'm not sure how to feel about this book. It certainly wasn't enjoyable, but I also don't think it was intended to be. However, I also didn't have any strong feelings about it. I disliked the narrator, sure, but that's about it. ...more
Tala Noufi
Jun 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Dec 08, 2008 rated it liked it
This volume made me wish I could read Arabic, so that I could have read it in its original form rather than in translation. Alas, I am nowhere near being able to decipher Arabic, so I read this in English.

The entire book is a torturous interrogation in a Lebanese prison, during which Yalo/Daniel recalls the circumstances of his life that lead to his detention. The third-person narration (eventually devolving into a combination of first and third person, through Yalo's repeated written confession
Feb 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In mid-2012 I read and reviewed the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award shortlisted “Limassol” by Yishai Sarid (translated from the Hebrew), the story of an Israeli secret service agent who is a hard-nosed violent interrogator who lacks emotion and wants to see the streets cleared of suicide bombers. Although not lingering in my mind for too long, it was one of my first exposures to the literature of that region, upon reflection I should have looked at Elias Khoury instead (not because I want to specifi ...more
Jim Fonseca
Apr 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arabic-authors
A story from Beirut’s civil war, more-or-less on-going since the 1980’s. The book focuses on one young man who represents the diversity of the country: he’s of Arab ancestry but a Maronite Christian whose grandfather was a Kurd. He fights in one of the wars, migrates to Paris and then returns and gets a job as a night watchman over a large estate. The estate includes a lover’s lane where he robs men and rapes women who visit the isolated area. Eventually arrested and tortured, he is forced to re ...more
Dec 06, 2007 rated it liked it
This is another book that is about torture (what is my problem lately?). It is told through the fractured narrative of Daniel (Yalo), and the story changes constantly as he goes to and from his torture sessions. I am not convinced of what the truth is - which I'm sure is the point. Perhaps by the end the truth will emerge, but I am so far left with the impression of a life shattered by violence.
And it ends heartbreakingly with his torture having all been for naught - for "fun", as it were. The w
"A heartbreaking book and sometimes hypnotic in beauty. . . . With both gentle and cruel images, Khoury wrote a lamentation for the generation that was corrupted and lost its children, and for the children themselves."-Haaretz

I wanted to read this because I've never read a book translated from Arabic. I've never read a writing style quite like Khoury--this might have to do with the translation--but the sentences, and the thoughts bounce back and forth, repeating in odd structures that I didn't d
Jun 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mankind, kutub
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alexander McNabb
Nov 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Friends were disappointed in this outing from M. Khoury, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.

It's a book you'll need to have a little patience with, the narrative keeps wandering back to the central events in the story, wandering away and then recounting the same scene again and again. The narrator is obviously either simple or extremely clever, but he meanders around a lifetime, coming back always to the events of a particular night and his behaviour towards lovers in cars parked up in the mountain.

Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Barry by: david-baptiste
Like the other novel of Khoury's that I've read, Gate of the Sun, this is extraordinary. The two books are quite distinct in scale--Gate of the Sun being the epic of a whole people, this book focusing on a single individual--and also in spirit, since while both are books about storytelling, Gate is a book about storytelling as a means of staying alive, whiile here, for the victim of torture, "the act of writing became an instrument of death and a path to suicide." A grim, beautiful, difficult bo ...more
Jul 26, 2008 rated it liked it
i think it helped to hear the author's voice on the radio right after i had finished yalo. he was speaking about the prisoners israel had just released to lebanon.
which is where yalo's story takes place. yalo's life is sad and split apart by civil war, he becomes a stalker of women at a make-out/lover's area on the outskirts of town. he is not someone you would like if you met him. the author tries to show that yalo himself is a victim of ethnic genocide and violence, he does a good job. you wi
Sep 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Heart-wrenching and terribly intoxicating, Yalo's fragmented mind and tortured notions of love sucked me in; the shattered poetry of his thoughts (especially early in the book, at its most fragmented) pulled me apart even as it helped Yalo (sort of) pull his story together, into one cohesive (again, sort of) narrative. Though the plot is hardly a strength, that's not the point of this novel: it's the feeling, the brokenness that surges through the words, both written and left un-written. If you ...more
Dec 28, 2008 rated it liked it
The storyline is disturbing (most takes place within Yalo's prison cell), but powerful. The story is how a confused young Lebanese man finds himself through reflection during imprisonment, tortue, and isolation. Again, not cheery, but like Schindler's List, a powerful story. Khoury's writing style was hard to follow at times (though it was obviously intential in order to convey the confusion of his character) which lessened my enjoyment of a book. A let down after Gate of the Sun, but the images ...more
Jul 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
This book is set in Beirut during the war. Or rather, one of the recent wars. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised at the insanity of the (unreliable) narrator. However, I just couldn't stomach the torture scenes. They disturbed me so much that I had to stop reading. Even such an interesting setting, and excellent literary skills, doesn't trump nightmares. Plus, it made me wonder if some sicko would read this book, and get new ideas for torture. A chilling thought. ...more
Sep 27, 2010 rated it did not like it
I made it up to page 112 and realised I had absolulely NO idea what was going on. Something about a beach, and a rape and hiding behind trees and golden hair...I'm starting to think that maybe me and middle eastern literature just don't mix. sigh. must be me, but found this completely incomprehensible. ...more
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Elias Khoury (Arabic: إلياس خوري) is a Lebanese novelist, playwright and critic. He has published ten novels, which have been translated into several foreign languages, as well as several works of literary criticism. He has also written three plays.
He currently serves as editor of Al-Mulhaq, the weekly cultural supplement of the Lebanese daily newspaper Al-Nahar, and is a prominent public intelle

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